The morning sun is up in North Bali; warm moist air is already invading the villa and it is just past 7am. Cliff and I decide to explore the neighborhood. We appreciate the sporadic shade as we trudge up and down the steep hillside. The narrow, just over a lane wide road, appears newly paved. We later learn from our driver Kadek that the road is in fact only a few years old. Prior to being paved, Kadek explains it was a hard-packed dirt road, difficult to navigate. The heavy tone in Kadek’s voice emphasizes “difficult.” I imagine traversing the steep, narrow unpaved road, especially the grinding buzz of tires churning and sputtering in the tropical mud, and empathize with his declaration.
EVERYONE is up and about! No sense waiting to enjoy the day! Many families are settled around long wooden tables outside their homes. Some are just relaxing and others are savoring a simple breakfast of rice cakes and Bali coffee. All wave to us! They enthusiastically shout out to us from a distance, from behind banana ferns and hibiscus bushes, tossing out the one or two English words they know, quickly followed by good morning in Balinese. Young children are especially excited by the novelty of seeing the white foreigners and trying out their English skills.
Locals zip by us on their scooters, or occasionally a car. One mid-30ish Balinese man on a scooter stops and asks us where we are staying. Cliff replies Villa Tiga Wasa. “Ahh.” Followed by a nod and a broad smile. No sense of indignation or resentment. The villa would be considered palatial in contrast to the modest homes of most locals. He wishes us a good holiday and takes off with a quick smile and a wave. Even the teenagers smile and wave.
Cliff and I continue our stroll. It’s a nature wonderland. We come upon wild red poinsettias and a lush bamboo forest. Long strands of colorful laundry decorate the yards like flags in a used car parking lot, along with simple bamboo fencing constructed to demarcate property lines. At one point, we cross under some jerry-rigged bamboo conduit, running above the street, resting on neatly constructed home-made bamboo poles, and disappearing into the forest. Most every home appears to be raising a cow. Not for their own consumption, but for fertilizer and the sale of the meat. We are somewhat surprised to see a macaque monkey chained to a tree, apparently as a pet. This wiry little guy seems quite excited as he performs stunts to capture our attention and maybe just to entertain us. The chain does not allow him to go very far. Happily, I think we made his day too.
We head up the hill where a couple dogs in the distance are barking assertively, and as we climb further we see the dogs venture out into the center of the road. The territorial dogs help us decide we’re ready to head back. As we walk up the long drive of the villa property, there is a view directly below of the neighbor’s property which is a series of shanties, most likely some of the buildings have dirt floors. There is an outside cooking area with pots and what appears to be a grandmother holding and singing to a baby. On the road side of the property the neighbors operate a small stall with a few prepackaged drinks and other goods. We make a point of purchasing some drinks later that afternoon.
Upon return to the villa, we can’t help comparing this walking experience to the frequent neighborhood strolls in our previous home in Westminster (suburb of Denver), Colorado. It had become somewhat of a game for us to see how many people would just walk by without saying a word, making eye contact, or even giving a nod of acknowledgement. Almost always, we would have to be the ones to initiate contact in order to evoke a response. Yet, these Balinese strangers initiated contact, eagerly greeted us and even made friendly gestures and hand motions from afar. Why the dramatic cultural differences when these people don’t even speak our language?
This causes me to ponder the meaning of happiness. I google it and the definition is simpler than I even imagined it might be: Someone who experiences frequent positive emotions – overall appreciation of life. Judged through Western eyes, the Balinese might appear poor, yet they are happy, rich in spirit and are generous in sharing that feeling! They seem to embrace the essence of contentment and satisfaction. I do believe this attitude is connected to their daily spiritual expressions of gratitude.
Just outside the front door is the villa’s offering temple and Kadek and Sumi attend to it daily. I asked Kadek about the offerings he provides and he explains it is to “keep the gods happy!” Overall it seems that the whole concept of being happy is acknowledged the Balinese culture. They know it’s important to be happy and they strive to keep their God happy! Daily offerings to their Hindu God and his many manifestations, keeps them happy.
Deciding to go off the beaten track and take an outing to the Temple of the Dead could not be timelier, or more enlightening.